New Delhi: External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said Tuesday that although the Russia-Ukraine conflict would have “practical consequences” for other countries in terms of rising energy prices and food shortages, Europe should look at the world beyond and at other “pressing issues”.
The minister was responding to a volley of questions about India’s position on the war in Ukraine and its close ties with Russia at the seventh edition of the Raisina Dialogue in Delhi.
He reminded his European counterparts, who are currently visiting India, of last year’s humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan after the West withdrew its troops from there and the Taliban took over.
“You spoke about Ukraine, I remember what happened less than a year ago in Afghanistan where an entire civil society was thrown under the bus by the world,” he said in response to a question asked by Norway’s foreign minister, Anniken Huitfeldt.
“We, in Asia, face our own sets of challenges which often impact the rules-based order,” he said. “So, I would say, quite honestly, all of us would like to find the right balance of our beliefs, of interests, of our experiences … It looks different from different parts of the world.”
Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, asked Jaishankar about Moscow’s “justification” for invading Ukraine, referring to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to India earlier this month.
“That’s for Sergey Lavrov to do,” Jaishankar said. “I am prepared to justify what India’s views are on Ukraine or any other matter. And in terms of what justification he has offered, I think he has engaged many of you in Europe probably more on the subject than he has engaged us. I don’t think I have anything particularly new to contribute to that.”
“There are no real winners in the Russia-Ukraine conflict,” Jaishankar said.
“I recognise today that the conflict in Ukraine is the dominant issue, if not among the dominant issues of the day … Truth is, there is really nobody who wants to see this conflict,” he said. “I understand that at this moment, this would probably occupy you to the exclusion of almost everything else. but there is also a world out there.”
“When the rules-based order was under challenge in Asia, the advice we got from Europe was to do more trade. At least we are not giving you that advice,” Jaishankar told Asselborn. “Which part of the rules-based order justified what the world did there?”
“Our position is, we all have to find some way of returning to diplomacy and dialogue, and to do that the fighting must stop. I think that is really the focus of what we’re trying to do,” Jaishankar said.
Mitigating food shortage
Jaishankar said India was willing to export more food grains, especially wheat, to help tide over the global food shortage resulting from the war, but it could only do so if the World Trade Organization (WTO) lifted its trading limits.
“India can make a difference today in terms of export of agricultural commodities, especially wheat. We are trying to see how we can supply more wheat to meet global shortfalls,” he said.
“There are, of course, some constraints here, which is that there are WTO limits on trading in what we have in terms of public stocks. But this is a very unusual situation, so we hope that the WTO would look at it in that manner,” he said.
The Geneva-based WTO, which lays down global trading rules for countries, stipulates that developing countries like India can only export 10 per cent of the total value of their agricultural production, known as ‘de minimis levels’.
Jaishankar said that the war in Ukraine would also give rise to shortages in edible oil in India.
“Ukraine was a very big provider of edible oil, sunflower oil to India. One of the many consequences of the conflict in Ukraine is those supplies have been cut. Argentina has emerged as one of our biggest sources of edible oil — soya oil, largely, in their case. So, I think that era of where distance meant indifference is behind us,” he said.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)